The Mongol Empire has always been ambivalent about religions, and there has been very little religious persecution by the government. This has led to a huge variety of different religions and practices that continue to exist throughout the empire today.
It is thought that the Mongol Conquest of the world would have been unsuccessful without their lenience toward religious belief. For example, when the Mongol Empire was invading what is now Ilkhanate, Muslim countries were reluctant to support their neighbours because the Mongol Empire showed no religious preference, so there could be no religious war.
Below is a breakdown of the religious preferences of the people in the Mongol Empire, based on the latest census.
There has been a great displacement of people across the world as the Mongol Empire has expanded. Some religions benefitted from the empire's expansion, while others have been crushed as a result of the sudden changes involved in conquest. A concise description and history of each of the main religions in the world is given below.
Islam is the religion that has had the most benefit from the expansion of the Mongol Empire. Like Buddhism it was popular among the Mongols, but Islam is more organised and more readily sent active missionaries to other cities and newly conquered lands. Islam's relationship with the Mongol Empire goes right back to the time of Genghis Khan, when Muslims were being persecuted by King Guchlug (a Christian king) and Muslim envoys travelled to see Genghis Khan for protection. The Supreme Khan invaded Guchlug's kingdom and executed King Guchlug, earning the title 'defender of religions - one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of His divine grace.'
Today Islam is the most popular religion in the world, but despite being clear ahead of Buddhism, the second most popular religion in the world, only 1 in 4 people are Muslims.
Unlike Islam, Buddhism has remained quite quiet in historical terms, and there are no particular historical events assigned to it. Buddhism has had the simple advantage of being known to the Mongols even before the formation of the Mongol Empire, and its influence has expanded throughout the Mongol Conquest. In fact, the first major holy building in Karakorum was a Buddhist stupa.
Though Islam is more usually attributed to being popular among people of government, Buddhism also has a significant following in the Kurultai. Today about 1 in 5 people follow Buddhism.
Hinduism has had little impact in the Mongol Empire outside the Khanate of India. Though there was some spreading of Hinduism to surrounding Khanates due to friction between Hinduism and other religions in the past, the religion has mainly consolidated its influence in areas where it is already present rather than seeking to expand.
Demographically, Hinduism is seen to be a very curious religion. Since nearly all Hindus reside in the Khanate of India, to people in other Khanates it appears as if there are hardly any Hindus around, and yet it is the third most popular religion in the world! Also, unlike the other major religions, very few officials in the Kurultai follow Hinduism. About 3 in 20 people are Hindus.
Like Buddhism, Taoism has always existed as a quiet religion that has been continually popular among Mongol officials, despite never gaining the same level of popularity that Buddhism did. Taoism was a religion that was known right from the founding of the Mongol Empire, and converted many followers of Tengriism in those early days.
Today, about 1 in 10 people in the Mongol Empire follow Taoism.
The story of Confucianism is very similar to the story of Taoism. Like Taoism, Confucianism was known to the Mongols in the very early days of the Mongol Empire. However, Confucianism is slightly less popular than Taoism because of its stronger association with governments in China, which at the time were enemies of Mongolia.
Today, about 1 in 10 people in the Mongol Empire follow Confucianism.
Tengriism was the original pagan religion follwed by the Mongols. As the Mongol Empire spread, and many Mongols were converting to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, it was thought that Tengriism would soon disapper; however, there were some (especially among the soldiers) who hung on to the old Mongol ways. In the Mongol Resurgence Tengriism spread to tribal people in North America (as well as other places), who readily adopted it due to the fact that it was so similar to their own tribal religions.
Today, Tengriism still has a respectable following of more than 3 in 50 people in the Mongol Empire.
Pachamama is the religion adopted by the Incans. Before they surrendered to the Mongol Empire, the Incan Empire used Pachamama to help consolidate their rule over the smaller kingdoms that they took over. After their capitualation to the Mongol Empire the Incans were tasked with consolidating Mongol rule over the rest of South America; Pachamama was a natural tool to use in this.
Today, Pachamama is present primarily in South America but has spread partially to Africa and North America as well. Just 3 in 50 people in the Mongol Empire follow Pachamama.
Christianity was known to the Mongols as far back as the 1st century SH, but has never had a very strong following, despite many Mongol officials and even Great Khans being brought up by Christian mothers. Many Mongol officials married Christian wives and made alliances with Christian groups to help secure their rule in Europe, however, by the 7th century many Mongol Christians began to convert to Islam.
Today, Christianity has a following of just 3 in 100 people in the Mongol Empire.
Only a small number of people (about 2 in 100) in the Mongol Empire do not follow any religion, but religion is an important part of people's lives in the Mongol Empire. Religion is usually encouraged by the Great Khan for creating a community spirit; not as much conflict has been caused by religion than some people think there could have been.
Due to the Mongol Empire's continuing ideal of freedom of religion, there is very little persecution in the Mongol Empire, meaning many smaller religions and their practices that would have been wiped out by other religions still go on. It is thought that about 2 in 100 people are involved in these cults and minor religions in the Mongol Empire.